Two Mule Loads of Earth

He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.

Thus reads the bio of Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria (2Ki. 5:1). A great man yet a grieved man. Had all the fame he could want yet went home each night cursed by his flesh.

As a Syrian, he was a long-standing enemy of the people of God and hence an enemy of God Himself. Being a Gentile he had no claim on the promises and covenants of God, thus no reason to expect any blessing of God. And being a leper, in his flesh he was helpless and hopeless to change his diseased condition.

But in God’s grace, this man of war was converted to a man of worship. Known for his fighting, he would become known for millennia to follow for his faith.

This mighty warrior believing the testimony of a little girl that there was a prophet who could heal him. Though at first balking at the thought of humbling himself by getting down off his chariot and washing in a river, eventually curbing his pride and submitting to the word of God by dipping himself seven times in the Jordan.

. . . and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

(2Kings 5:14b ESV)

But not only was his flesh restored, his blind eyes were made to see, his deaf ears able to hear, and his sin-hardened heart of stone started beating, seeking after the living God.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel;

(2Kings 5:15a ESV)

And so, while he was still weak in the flesh, provision was made for his healing (Rom. 5:6). While still an enemy, he was reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). Though a stranger to the promises and covenants, by grace he had been brought near, and that by faith (Eph. 2:11-13).

And though new to the ways of promise and faith, though still informed primarily by the world he had grown up in, he knew that this newly found revelation demanded some sort of lasting response.

Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD.”

(2Kings 5:17 ESV)

Two mule loads of earth. That’s what I’m chewing on this morning.

Wanting some holy ground that he might wholly commit to the God who had made him whole. Not knowing much of the ways of God, but intuitively sensing that his new found faith should manifest itself in lifelong fidelity. That if there really is no other God, then the one true God was worthy to receive total allegiance. That a Savior deserved a sacrifice as an act of worship. And that, though he needed to head back into the world, as much as Naaman was able, he would not be defiled or distracted by the world–but would have a place and space to offer to God that which was due His name.

Two mule loads of earth, that’s all he asked.

How much more have we been given that we might remain faithful?

Not just two loads of dirt to make for ourselves some earthen altar upon which to continually offer peace offerings (Ex. 20:24), but given access into the holy of holies through the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God. More than some physical ground to stand upon, given the inspired word of God as a firm foundation for sustaining our faith. Beyond some simple sod for under our feet, the Spirit of God taking up residence within us, working in us a work beyond our comprehension, transforming and conforming us into the likeness of His Son.

What’s more, provision made that we might not go back into the world alone.  But adopted as God’s children, brought into His family, given a community equipped to protect, and to build up its members until we reach the fullness of faith.

All that we might continue to know there is no God in all the earth but our God. That we might be faithful to Him who is faithful. And worship only the One worthy of worship.

By His grace. For His glory.

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But For the Sake of Another

He was an evil king, just not as evil as his father before him. He worshiped idols, but not the idols of the nations around him. Instead he bowed to the fake idols of his own kingdom that were fashioned of gold to be their gods when they split from the southern kingdom (1Ki. 12:25-33). So, like the kings of Israel before him, King Jehoram, the son of Ahab, clung to the sin of Jeroboam and gave his back to God.

And though normally he refused to even acknowledge heaven’s King over every king, much less wanted anything to do with Him, it’s funny how desperate situations have a way of directing the wayward heart towards the one true God.

Scenario: Ahab dies, and Moab rebels against Israel. King Jehoram calls upon Jehoshaphat king of Judah and the king of Edom to come and help him put the upstart Moabites back in their place. When the armies head out to do battle though, for some reason they take “a circuitous march of seven days” and end up running out of water.

Situation? Not good. A dehydrated army is a depleted army. Faint fighters are ineffective fighters. Thirsty warriors will likely become thrashed warriors.

And so Jehoshaphat, a follower of the God who delivered the twelve tribe’s from Egypt, suggests that Jehoram engage Elisha, the prophet of God, in order to seek God’s divine intervention in their desperate situation.

And this morning I’m chewing on Elisha’s response to the idol-serving king.

And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother. . . . As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.

(2Kings 3:13a, 14 ESV)

No reason that God should have even taken notice of the pickle Jehoram was in, much less that He should give ear to the evil king’s plea or intervene on his behalf.  But for the sake of another.

“I have regard for Jehoshaphat,” says the prophet of the LORD of hosts. And thus not only would the holy God look upon the defiled despot of Israel, but He would also satisfy his thirst, and the thirst of his armies, by filling up the dry streambeds with water, though no one would “see wind or rain” (v.16-17). An unexplainable miracle for an undeserving mutineer. And that, for the sake of another.

And that’s my story, isn’t it? Going my own way. Bowing to my own idols. Serving gods after my own making. Happy to do it my way until my way led to dry streambeds. And a thirst turned my heart to the LORD of hosts who had no reason to have anything to do with me, but for the sake of Another.

Isn’t that the foundational catalyst for grace?

The Father’s regard for the Son and His finished work on the cross the only basis upon which He would intervene in our desperate situations.

Rescued for the sake of Another. Forgiven for the sake of Another. Reconciled for the sake of Another. Counted as righteous for the sake of Another.

Where it not that I have regard for My Son, I would neither look at you nor see you.

What wondrous grace. To Him be all the glory.

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Pursuing Grace

Nothing about King Ahab of Israel that one might consider redeeming qualities. In a long line of evil kings, the summary bio on this guy was that he was the worst. “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him” (1Kings 17:30). And just in case you missed it the first time, the Spirit repeats Himself: “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (17:33). Not the world record you wanna set. Not what you want written in the books when it comes time to open the books for judgment.

But as I’m reading in 1Kings 20 this morning, against the backdrop of this black, black character, shines the light of God’s patience. In the midst of the darkness that enveloped Ahab, God doesn’t stop trying to bring sight to the blind.

God has some business to do with Syria. What’s more, in His sovereign determination, God chooses Ahab as the weapon to be used in His hand. And so, on two different occasions, Syria musters its massive army against Israel. And twice they are defeated. But most noteworthy for me, twice God reveals to Ahab that He is the LORD, the Almighty Commander of the Army.

And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD.

And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’”

(1Kings 20:13, 28 ESV)

“I will give [them] into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” That’s the repeated phrase that’s got me thinking this morning.

God owed Ahab nothing. Nothing in Ahab merited anything but God’s holy and just wrath. Yet God said, “I’ll give your enemies into you hand.”

And certainly, God could have dealt with Syria in any number of ways. Raised any king from any land and put His hand towards using them as His sword of judgment. But He chose to use Ahab.

And here’s what really gets me. Why did God enlist Ahab? So that Ahab the idolater might know that God was the LORD.

And the words of Jesus come to mind:

“And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

(John 17:3 ESV)

Knowing who the only true God is the key that can unlock the door to eternal life. And God was handing Ahab the key.

Twice He spoke to the evil king through a personal messenger. Twice He said He would fight the king’s fight. And twice He said it was so that the Baal-worshiping king might know that God is LORD over all.

And the two words that come to mind are Pursuing Grace.

What patience. What kindness in seeking to give Ahab sight to see, ears to hear, and the resources to repent.

To be sure, Ahab’s sin-hardened heart would take the revelation and trash it, determining to continue to walk in his own ways. But I can’t get over God’s unimaginable, continuing pursuit of a wayward sinner–even if he was like, way wayward . . . more wayward than anyone had been wayward before him.

How great is the grace of God to pursue men and women who are literally hell-bent in going their own way? Pretty great!

And I’m thankful. I may have not been an Ahab, but my sin and rebellion deserved no less God’s judgment. Instead I was extended His patience and kindness. In God’s determined purpose, and by His sovereign intervention, He entered my world too. His word spoken so that I might hear. My eyes opened to see the victory He had won on my behalf against an enemy I was helpless before.

And I knew that He was the LORD. And by faith, and this not of my own doing; it is the gift of God, that knowledge gave birth to eternal life.

Only because our God is a pursuing God.

To Him be glory forever for His pursuing grace.

Amen?

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The Mystery

After over 3 weeks on the shores of Maui, time to break camp. Been a great reset. Mission accomplished: rest, reflection, rejuvenation . . . and some reading along the way. Now time to head back into the fray. And on this last morning I’m in awe afresh of the mystery.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

(Ephesians 5:25-27, 31-32 ESV)

Marriage is the earthly opportunity to experience a heavenly reality. Of being loved and sacrificed for. Of being owned and watched over. Of being the object of an affection driven to bringing out in you all the potential you were created, and re-created for. Of being presented a beautiful bride, not just on the day you first walked down the aisle to the altar, but every day afterward as your work-in-progress-ness continues to bear the fruit of the intrinsic beauty possessed through regeneration. And, for all eternity, one day to be received of the Bridegroom without spot, wrinkle or any such thing. Wholly loved for a whole lifetime that you would be presented holy in His sight.

To participate in such a divine object lesson is a privilege. To have been part of such a unimaginable dynamic, life-changing. To have experienced such a relationship, an indescribable blessing.

This mystery is profound. Christ and the church.

And I sit back this morning and ponder on the profound. Meditating on the multi-faceted realities of being the bride of Christ. Having tasted on earth the best heaven has to offer.

Wooed by a Suitor I would never have sought on my own. Won by the Spirit who opened my eyes to consider eternity, opened my ears to hear His word, and opened my heart to exercise the faith to be saved. Called not just to serve the Master as a slave, but to abide with the Savior as an adopted child of God, and to walk with Him, and for Him, as His beloved bride. Loved steadfastly, though often I languish. Forgiven fully–and that by His precious blood shed on a cruel cross–not just for my past sin, but for my on-going failures. Never forsaken, “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water and with the word.”

Much to be in awe of this morning. Much to be thankful for. Much to compel my heart to bow in wonder and worship.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Such an amazing grace! To Him be the all-deserving glory!

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WDJD

For whatever you thought of the WWJD season, “What Would Jesus Do?” wasn’t a bad filter to be running daily decisions through. But it was a season, I think. The marketing frenzy seems to have passed. Not many wearing the wristbands or t-shirts anymore.

This morning, though, it comes to mind because of another question Paul might have us set in motion as a grid for doing life. WDJD?

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love . . .

(Ephesians 5:1-2a ESV)

Be imitators of God. Honestly, first time I read through this very familiar Ephesians passage, I practically skipped right over that command to obey. But a second reading, and a little bit of chewing, and you almost start choking on it. Imitate God?!? Really? That’s a bit ambitious isn’t it?

Maybe not. Though we’re no God . . . ain’t even close . . . we are image-bearers of God. Created to bear God’s likeness. Wired at the most intrinsic level as THEY are (Gen. 1:26-27).

And then we were re-created, by faith in the finished work of the cross, to be conformed to that likeness (Rom. 8:29). Though all that intrinsic wiring from creation had been short-circuited by sin, though we were once dead in transgressions, we were born again, infused with the living Spirit of God, the active agency by which the intrinsic material could be taken and made into a living reality. So, says Paul, “Be imitators of God.”

But how? Not gonna happen by becoming omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent. No omni’s about us. Though now infused with a power from the realms of heaven, we’re still frail creatures of the dust of the earth.

But when we walk in love, Paul says, we imitate God. When, as beloved children, we love in return, we mirror our Maker. We reflect our Redeemer. We simulate our Savior. And that, as we ask ourselves continually, WDJD?  What Did Jesus Do?

And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

(Ephesians 5:2 ESV)

What did Jesus do? He offered Himself to God, fully submitting His will to the Father’s. And having done that, He gave Himself up for us. His body nailed to a tree. His blood poured out on the ground. The once for all atoning sacrifice for our sin.

And so, we imitate God when we incarnate the gospel. We imitate God by walking in love as Christ loved.  Giving ourselves for others as we offer ourselves as sacrifices to God.

It starts with the sacrifice, starts with a vertical response to Him for the love shown to us through the giving of His Son. Presenting our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), just as Jesus did.

And with the vertical operational, the horizontal becomes possible. Loving others, whether they deserve it not, because they too are image-bearers. Loving others because that’s what Jesus did. Able to do what Jesus did because it’s “no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Because of what Jesus did, I’ve been given an example of how to imitate God and how to walk in love. What’s more, because of what Jesus did, I am also empowered to imitate God and love like Jesus loved.

Thus, I can act like God by abiding in the gospel. Mimic Him in some small way as my mind never strays far from WDJD?

By His grace. For His glory.

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Tenderhearted

Seems over the past few days that I’m wearing a fairly consistent filter in terms of what I’m taking away from my morning readings as food for thought. A filter that captures things that I don’t want to characterize me as I get older.

Don’t want to be like Solomon who started well but drifted away with a wayward heart. Keep me Lord, as I get older, from becoming a Jeroboam who fell into the trap of taking Your gifts and thinking he needed to use them and protect them for his glory. And this morning it’s not a warning from the kings but an exhortation from Paul that’s surfaced a yellow flag for this aging man.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV)

In light of our gospel identity, which Paul lays out in the first three chapters of Ephesians, he then turns to how we should live in gospel community in Ephesians 4–how to walk in “a manner worthy of the calling” (4:1). We’re to strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit, and this as we determine to bear with one another in love (4:2-3). We’re to steward the grace enablings gifted to each one of us (4:7) as members of Christ’s “one body” (4:4) for the benefit of the whole body until we all grow up into the fullness of Christ (4:13-14). Each doing his or her part so that the body “builds itself up in love” (4:15-16).

Gospel community involves “one another” work. It’s up close, in your face work as we are tied together “by every joint.” And so it’s gonna come with some unavoidable, interpersonal friction. And, it’s gonna require some divinely enabled, interpersonal skills. That’s just how family life works.

And so, we’re not to walk like we used to walk (4:17). Nor are we to talk like we used to talk (4:29). Instead we are to put on what Paul calls our “new self.” The new man, the new woman, “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24).

And one word has captured my attention in all this. Noodling on one character trait that I’ve seen fade in others who have aged and fear it could happen to me. Chewing on 13 letters that I would want, by God’s continuing, enabling, gospel grace to mark me.

Oh, that I might be tenderhearted.

The word is only used twice in the NT. Once here by Paul, and once by Peter where he exhorts another gospel community, “Finally,all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1Pet. 3:8).

“Having strong bowels” is the literal translation. Kind of loses something, doesn’t it? But the Hebrews regarded the vital internal organs as the seat of affections. I’m thinking it would be fair to modernize the ancient literal meeting with something like “having a well-functioning heart.” A kind heart. A benevolent heart. A compassionate heart. A slow to anger heart. A quick to forgive heart. A tender heart.

And there’s something about aging that I think can often harden the heart. The school of hard knocks creating an increasing hardness. Real life experiences resulting in an increasingly cynical perspective.

So, it’s in gospel community where we have a place to exercise the heart and keep it soft and supple. In the family of God where we can continually practice tender mercies so that our heart isn’t compromised by hardened arteries.

And this we do by never forgetting the gospel–never forgetting how “God in Christ forgave you.”

The cross is the cure for the hardening heart. The reminder of the debt paid on my behalf the intrinsic motivation to cut others some slack. His patience with me as I work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Php. 2:12), my power to deal with others who are also but a sanctifying work in progress. The living Christ in me able to be the loving Christ through me.

Oh, that I might be tenderhearted.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Resisting the “How Do I Protect It” Way

Chewing on the story of Jeroboam ascending to the throne of Israel in 1Kings 12. And there seems to be something about getting to be king of the castle which, no matter how you got there–even if the castle was freely given to you–evokes a natural tendency to go into a How Do I Protect It way of thinking.

While God didn’t appear to Jeroboam in a vision, as he had to Solomon, He did send a prophet with a pretty clear, unambiguous proclamation.

“Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes . . . And I will take you, and you shall reign over all that your soul desires, and you shall be king over Israel. And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in My ways, and do what is right in My eyes by keeping My statutes and My commandments, as David My servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.”

(1Kings 11:31b, 37-38 ESV)

How’s that for a promise to claim!

And guess what? It happened. And Jeroboam didn’t need to fight for the northern kingdom. Didn’t need to campaign or politic. Just needed to get in front of a parade that had already determined to exit the Twelve Tribe Union because of bad decision making on the part of King Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. And this too was “a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that He might fulfill His word” (12:15).

The northern ten tribes of Israel were, as the saying goes, handed to Jeroboam on a silver platter. Not because of his power, but because of a promise. Not because of his character or competence, but because He was chosen. Not because he was great, but because he had been called by a great God. Top of the food chain, not because he deserved it, but because the Sovereign God had determined it.

And like Adam and Eve when given the garden, with a very simple maintenance plan. Listen to Me. Walk in My ways. Do what is right in My eyes. And I will be with you.

But the newly crowned king, rather than trusting the LORD, starts to lean on his own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). Instead of acknowledging Him in all matters concerning his new responsibilities, and trusting Him for straight paths, he becomes wise in his own eyes as he noodles on how to protect the throne. Rather than fear the Lord, he figures out a plan, now that he’s one top, to stay on top.

And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah. So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

(1Kings 12:26-28 ESV)

So what does he come up with? I need to keep my folks from traveling to the southern kingdom in order to protect my northern kingdom. And why would they go there? To worship the God who dwells there, the God of our deliverance from Egypt. I need to make an alternative to worshiping in Jerusalem. Thus, I need to provide a substitute for Who’s being worshiped in Jerusalem. And one golden calf . . . No! Wait! That failed at Sinai . . . Two golden calves outta’ do it!

Okay. That just sounds crazy. But that’s what you get when you start to try and hold onto something you never earned in the first place. It’s the path you’re likely to walk down when you stop trusting the promises and come up with your own plan. It’s the danger we face when God’s perfect word is jettisoned because of what we think is our better way.

How prone is my heart to be a Jeroboam heart?

To somehow believe that the gift of new life through the Spirit can be brought to fruition in the flesh (Gal. 3:3)? To somehow think that, now that I’ve been seated in heavenly places and given every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3, 2:6), I must now come up with my own game plan to ensure I keep my seat and merit the blessings? To have once trusted the Lord to begin the work, to then rely on my own wisdom and ways to complete it (Php.1:6)? That just sounds crazy. And it is.

Oh to recognize when grace is being supplanted by grit. When trusting His promises is becoming secondary to relying on our plans.

To resist and reject the How Do I Protect It way and, instead, faithfully walk in the How Do I Respond To It way.

By His grace. For His glory.

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